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The Two-Tiered System of Allusions

Essay by   •  November 8, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  1,606 Words (7 Pages)  •  1,168 Views

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In Hollywood today, most films can be categorized according to the genre system. There are action films, horror flicks, Westerns, comedies and the likes. On a broader scope, films are often separated into two categories: Hollywood films, and independent or foreign 'art house' films. Yet, this outlook, albeit superficial, was how many viewed films. Celebrity-packed blockbusters filled with action and drama, with the use of seamless top-of-the-line digital editing and special effects were considered 'Hollywood films'. Films where unconventional themes like existentialism or paranoia, often with excessive violence or sex or a combination of both, with obvious attempts to displace its audiences from the film were often attributed with the generic label of 'foreign' or 'art house' cinema.

In recent times, such stereotyped categorizations of films are becoming inapplicable. 'Blockbusters' with celebrity-studded casts may have plots in which characters explore the depths of the human psyche, or avant-garde film techniques. Titles like 'American Beauty' (1999), 'Fight Club' (1999) and 'Kill Bill 2' (2004) come readily into mind. Hollywood perhaps could be gradually losing its stigma as a money-hungry machine churning out predictable, unintelligent flicks for mass consumption. While whether this image of Hollywood is justified remains open to debate, earlier films in the 60's and 70's like 'Bonnie and Clyde' (1967) and 'Taxi Driver' (1976) already revealed signs of depth and avant-garde film techniques. These films were successful as not only did they appeal to the mass audience, but they managed to communicate alternate messages to select groups who understood subtleties within them.

This was achieved via a two-tiered system, in which films could be viewed and interpreted on different levels. On one level, audiences could appreciate the film at face-value; the cohesive union the plot and acting of the characters to bring about a story which entertains and sometimes, carried messages or morals, such as Lumet's 'Dog Day Afternoon' (1975), which had political implications. On another level, the other group of audience - those who have knowledge of film history or are learned in film culture - were able to admire artistic craftsmanship of film techniques the director employed, or appreciate the subtleties and allusions embedded within the film. As Carroll (1981: 56) explained, most movie-goers in the late seventies often felt as if they were watching two films simultaneously - the simple genre film, and the art film, coordinated with allusions in which the film-literate could pick out. He states that this system allowed Hollywood to remain faithful to the mass audience, yet popular among the rising film-literate generation.

Allusion in film history has become an important expressive device used by directors extensively to make comments about other films within their own films, or vice-versa (Carroll, 1981: 52). Methods of allusions include "quotations, memorialization of past genres, reworking of past genres, homages, and the recreation of 'classic' scenes, shots, and plot motifs, lines of dialogue, themes, gestures, and so forth". Through the use of these practices, the director was able to bring the wealth of resources film history held to enrich the films they made. Carroll believes using allusions to old films allowed audiences to apply knowledge of the old film onto the context of the new film. Asides from expanding the meanings of the new films, allusions were practiced to pay homage to its predecessor, and also to establish an intertextual link for the transmitting of specific ideas. Usage of allusions also meant that the director could put his film up as a comparison to the old film, to either critique its predecessor or add new elements of auteurship onto it. Examples of these include 'The Simpsons' (1989) which redid a scene from 'Pulp Fiction' (1994) as a homage to Tarantino; the 'Back to the Future' (1985) trilogy, in which all three films had the villain Biff dumped into a pile of manure to allude to each other, as well as well as 'Scary Movie' (2000) - a spoof of many horror films including 'Scream' (1996), which critiqued and made fun of conventional film techniques excessively used in the horror genre.

In 'Kill Bill 2', Tarantino pays homage to Hong Kong cinematic style of quick zoom shots which emphasized the expressions of the characters' face - used in the scene whereby Beatrix Kiddo a.k.a The Bride confronts Kung Fu Master Pai Mei, as well as using less colour contrast in reminiscence of Hong Kong martial arts film. The main protagonist also wears a yellow tracksuit - an allusion to martial arts legend Bruce Lee. When the Bride seeks out Budd, the tone of the film changes from a samurai film to a Western film. Tarantino revisits the Western genre, alluding to Sergio Leone's 'A Fistful of Dollars' (1964), using the movie's soundtrack within 'Kill Bill 2'. Budd also refers to her as a 'cowgirl'. When she attacks Budd, she is instead blasted by a shotgun blast of rock salt (Conard, 2004).

'Kill Bill 2' also utilizes the two-tiered system of communication within the film. On one hand, audiences view it as a samurai / action film about a mother who was also an ex-assassin who decides to take revenge. There is much violence and bloodshed and riveting swordplay in the film, and the film ends nicely in accordance with the classical Hollywood paradigm; with the evil (Bill) vanquished and hero (in this case, heroine) triumphant and reunited with her daughter. Taken at its face value, it makes for an interesting and entertaining blockbuster, using the star power of Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu and Chiaki Kuriyama to add charisma and personality to the film.

On the other hand, 'Kill Bill 2' is also a tapestry of artistic film techniques, allusions and genre revisitations of B-films, martial arts films and spaghetti westerns. Conard (2004) describes Tarantino's technique as a 'post-modern collage'. He states that Tarantino recreates films he made allusions to in 'significant and original way', 'fusing ancient and disparate events and images into a seamless picture'. In other words, Tarantino is reinventing and combining these genres into his films. For one, Western films tend to have a dominant gun-toting male hero who duels with the villain who is harassing the peace. In 'Kill Bill' however, we have a

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